He remembers the first things he ever grew very clearly.
Nasturtiums! And I grew mesembryanthemums, which look a lot like daisies. They came up with my Dad’s boot print in the middle; he didn’t know I’d sown them and crunched right across them! I grew geraniums in my little polythene greenhouse, and spider plants… and I still do. Anything which is beautiful and lifts my spirits. Though I’ve got a posh greenhouse now – it’s made of glass!
He didn’t always get everything right though...
Oh, I remember buying a packet of alyssum seeds when I was about 11, and the picture led me to believe they were as big as a hydrangea. So I sowed them thinking they were going to be about waist height - and of course they were about 3 inches high! I have never forgotten that.
...even as a famous gardener!
Carrots were a real failure when I first came to Hampshire – oh crikey! I’ve lived there since the 80s, and the ground is quite stony. After a few years I had a flash of inspiration and made a raised bed - I can’t believe I didn’t think it of sooner!
He let us in on his very favourite plants.
I made a new border a couple of years ago with my two favourite plants interspersed – Japanese maple and hostas. It’s a great delight! But I like so many plants. I yearn for snowdrops in January, then it’s daffodils, then tulips, then sweet peas and peonies, then roses. It’s all about seasonality here in the UK.
There’s still a lot you can do even if you can’t get outside.
Houseplants are back! The first book I wrote was on houseplants in the mid 70s, and now people are realising how lovely it is to live with greenery again. The darker, leafier ones – like Swiss cheese plants and philodendrons – are really easy to grow in lower light. Even if you’ve only got a doorstep, you can have a big pot and put some summer flowers in it.
Alan’s a big fan of ‘growing your own’.
I have a tiny kitchen garden - I’ve got potatoes coming up, broad beans, carrots, cabbages and all sorts. We made a programme about it last year, with my wife filming because it was lockdown. This is a woman who has never even taken a snap!
He loves his food...
Oh I do like to eat! We went to a restaurant yesterday on the Isle of Wight; we sat by the sea and had some wonderful seafood, but I am also a pie man. I’m a Yorkshireman and I like pies. And I love eating my own home-grown veg and fruit.
And his Wiltshire Farm Foods order?
Definitely shepherd’s pie – and I love trifle. I also love traditional desserts like apple pie and custard. Ah!
He’s passionate about our great British summertime.
Oh gosh! When the sun shines here there is nowhere else I’d rather be! We don’t get burnt to a crisp here; we get refreshing rain which gives us our green gardens. If someone said: “You can never go abroad
again” I’d be sad, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken.
He shares with us his favourite gardens to visit.
I love going to Tresco on the Isles of Scilly, Osborne on the Isle of Wight, Sissinghurst
in Kent… so many! But I love discovering new ones. Big public gardens are wonderfully impressive, but often it’s the smaller gardens, run by one or two people that really inspire you.
Above all, he knows his purpose.
If I do nothing else in my life, if I can encourage people to grow something and make a difference with their little patch, they will get so much out of it. It’s food for their soul. And it’s doing their bit for the little bit of the environment that surrounds them. The garden I am sitting in now is full of birds, bees and butterflies. There has been a thrush singing for two hours solid – so he is doing his bit!